Friday, February 5, 2010


By now, every writer knows that without conflict, well, what's the point of the book in the first place. Every single book, story, has conflict. Little Red Riding Hood was skipping through the forest, minding her own business, when the Big Bad Wolf stepped out in front of her. Conflict. The wolf wanted to eat her. He didn't - still haven't figured out that one. I mean, seriously, he was a wolf, she a little girl, and he just lets her go. Was he secretly thinking about a two for one special? Hey, I can get grandma first, she might be a bit tough and leathery, but still, then I can get Little Red. Why not just have at Red to begin with and then go get grandma? Hey, does that constitute a plot hole? Am I remembering the story wrong? Anyhow, Little Red skipped on down the path to Grandma's house and "my, what big teeth you have, grandma". Without the Big Bad Wolf, the story would have been about a girl on the way to grandma's house to deliver a basket of goodies. Woo-hoo, that would have kept me turning the page.

Conflict is the necessary ingredient of any story. Without conflict, well, it's like chicken noodle soup without the noodles.

So, in thinking a lot about conflict as I work on my query/pitch I realize (and this is all thanks to a comment Sarah left over at Slushbusters on the pitch I entered in their contest) . . .

The conflict needs to be specific.

The reader needs to know the conflict.

The reader also needs to find out what the character needs to do about the conflict.

And . . .

Sometimes, the conflict is the catalyst for something different.

This is the case with the MC in Margarita Nights. The conflict - realization of feelings for someone other than his partner - makes Jared realize that his current relationship is lacking. It is safe and comfortable, but there's something missing. He settled into the routine of comfort/safeness so easily, that he failed to realize the relationship wasn't exactly what he expected and wanted.

So, the conflict served a purpose. It's not a do/die situation. It is only a situation where the character must struggle with his own needs/desires and figure out the best option for him. Does he give in to his fear of ending up alone (an old man at the bar desperately hoping someone will notice him) and stay in the relationship because it is safe/comfortable? Does he sacrifice a part of himself by knowing he's not in love with his partner, and yet stays in the relationship? Does he risk everything by walking away from a good (if not satisfying on all levels) relationship? What if his ideal of a satisfying relationship doesn't exist? What if, horror of horrors, he does end up alone? Would, in the end, his sacrifice of a safe/comfortable relationship have been worthwhile?

So, there is conflict - an attraction outside his relationship that makes him realize, over time, not right away people, that he is not in love with his partner.

The conflict, however, unlike the Big Bad Wolf who eats grandma and tries to eat Little Red, doesn't propel the story from beginning to end, it only sets the MC on a journey of self discovery.

What about your manuscripts of brilliance? Is the conflict straightforward? Character A must overcome this/that or he/she will die? If Character A doesn't overcome this/that then the world will end? Or, is the main conflict more a catalyst that, like Jared, sends the character on a journey of self discovery that doesn't necessarily have a happy ending?



Ann Elle Altman said...

In my book, nothing too catastrophic happens if she doesn't success except her self-esteem goes down the toilet and she's regarded by the family who hates as a loser...yeah, so I guess catastrophic.

great pointers.


Jen said...

I have two types of conflicts, they are both tied together though, both a path to self discovery but how she got in the situation in the first place to starting her path is also conflict...

Jonathon Arntson said...

I like the title of this post, it drew me in.

I'd say the only conflict at the moment is between me and my MS. Thanks to your wise words here, I feel that's about to change.

Scott said...

Ann - I'm of the opinion, mistaken or not, that the conflict doesn't always have to be a do/die situation. Sometimes, the struggle of a character is more internal than external.

Jen - more than one conflict? Whoa! My one MS is filled with conflicts since it takes place from multiple perspectives.

Jonathan - thanks. I've had similar conflicts with my MS, my characters, a specific paragraph. Geesh! And seriously, Sarah over at Slushbusters provided the catalyst for this post with her very wise questions.

Davin Malasarn said...

Great post, Scott. I had a lot of trouble focusing my conflict. My early readers would tell me that they felt like there was a conflict, but that it was hard to pin down, it was too expansive and amorphous. Part of me thinks that was okay, but I also enjoy reading my book more now that it's focused!

Lady Glamis said...

I like multiple conflicts, of course, on lots of levels. Like your physical conflict vs. emotional conflict and having those conflict all over the place. Tension. It's what I live for in the book. But like you, I think it all needs to be focused, and having a main conflict is very important.

Sarah said...

Scott, so glad the questions were helpful! : )

Jemi Fraser said...

Made me think about the conflict in my current ms. There are several & I actually think I connected them all. Yippee!

Anonymous said...

Conflict - the final frontier ... these are the writings of a - wait, wrong blog. Tee hee hee. I tend to lean towards conflicts that involve life and death situations. I suppose one day I should branch out and find deeper and more meaningful conflict but for now I'm having fun.